A More Nuanced Look at the US and Global Economy

On my last couple of visits to the USA, I've been shocked by how many people I met that are working three jobs to make ends meet. Everywhere I went, there were "Help wanted" signs, but for low-paying jobs, with short hours and no benefits. So yes, unemployment is low-but that is made irrelevant by the fact wages and benefits are even lower. Getting a job is not the challenge, it's paying for rent and health-care that is the problem.

This is why the false choice of Reaganomics/Free-Market Capitalism vs. Socialism is a useless way to frame the economic debate in the 21st Century. When the stock market goes up or corporations make a profit, that does not mean the money is getting to the average American. Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager Ray Dalio talks about us really having 2 economies: One that is making enormous gains for corporations and wealthy individuals, and another that remains flat or moving downward for the vast majority of Americans. Great distinction! This makes a lot of sense to me, but unfortunately both Liberal and Conservative news outlets report on the economy as if it's 1978 and so our politics talks about economics in a Cold War Capitalism vs. Socialism framework that is totally out of date.

 

A few things to think about:

-The average American cannot handle an unexpected $500 bill

-The average American only has about $120,000 saved for retirement at a time when people are living into their 80's and 90's. That covers about one year of retirement.

-The stock market is on an unprecedented hot-streak, but that money is being hoarded by corporations or going to purchase stock (not getting into the main economy).

-Many jobs are being lost due to automation. This always happens, but what makes this different is that technology is not just replacing rote, service jobs or hard labor jobs. Today's Artificial Intelligence can replace journalists, lawyers, and other high-skilled, white-collar labor. These are also machines that can learn and teach themselves new skills.

-In most places, 30% of American's money goes into housing with just about every market over-priced. Some of our key cities are becoming unlivable for the normal person with normal wages.

-The number one concern of Americans is paying for health-care. Few are prepared, and advances in health care mean many elderly (and their children who have to take care of them in old age) are looking at living longer, but paying astronomical prices for medical services and convalescent care.

-College has gone up 500% over the price of inflation since 1987 while professor wages have dropped and the hiring of under-qualified and poorly paid adjunct professors is the norm.

-The US had a $4 trillion national debt when Reagan left office. It is now $22 trillion with Trump adding an unnecessary billion in the last few months to cover losses over an unnecessary trade war (socialism for farmers). $19 Trillion was the point of no return where it's not possible to pay it back (heading into Greece territory).

-Think of the amount of money each family rich or poor has to spend on technological upgrades, computers, phones etc.  In many cases, these are not optional.  This is what is required to do your work, do your banking, and stay in contact in a globalized world.  It's a large added expense that no one had in 1980.

-Due to the internet, the rich are able to see a lot more clearly what the rich have that they do not (a great recipe for revolution and populism).

-While 50% of Americans own stock, most own only a little bit of stock and get wiped out during the market crashes every 7-9 years or through fees. The stock market investors that truly win are the ones with large amounts of money and who can afford financial and tax specialists. That's where the big gains are.

The period after World War II was the fastest period of economic growth in US history and established the Middle Class. Tax rates were also very high. Elvis paid 95% in taxes and was happy to do it. Republicans like Eisenhower expected tax levels to be high and that's what helped to recover from the extreme imbalance of the 50 year rich-poor imbalance that led to the Great Depression.

When the economy tanks in the next couple of years (not "if"), or way of discussing American's economy is going to have to get a lot more sophisticated than just "Capitalism vs. Socialism" arguments. Countries that succeed in the 21st Century will value 1) an entrepreneurial environment 2) Corporate Responsibility 3) Taxes 4) Unions 5) Government involvement--especially in infrastructure and education.

Countries like Singapore, Switzerland, China, and the Scandinavian countries are ahead of the curve.  They see that it is not one thing or the other.  It's both.  Meanwhile, in the US, our political and economic discussions seem to be stuck in 1980.  The longer it takes for us to mature our discussion and make it more nuanced; the longer it will take for the US to economically recover.

Why Evangelical Churches Struggle in Europe

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By Patrick Nachtigall

It is well known that the evangelical church struggles in Europe.  On a continent where the evangelical population can be as low as 0.25% (Greece) and where 4% overall church attendance is considered good (Germany); many evangelical churches find themselves struggling to maintain churches with more than 20 committed people.  The northern protestant countries such as England, Scotland, Sweden, Germany, and Holland are likely to see the most success, and some countries outside of Western Europe like Ukraine and Romania show a decent amount of growth. But for the most part, Christianity is in decline and evangelical churches barely survive.  

The few that seem to be thriving are almost always made up immigrants, persecuted or marginalized people like the Roma, or people who have parents that were active Christians---even if it was in the State church.  Quite often these churches have quite a few parishioners who are related to each other which adds to the numbers of the congregation.  Converting an actual Czech person, Spaniard, or Greek is very difficult.   

The usual reasons given for that is the fact that Europe is post-religious/post-Christian, having been the birthplace of the secular environment and the Enlightenment.  It’s also true that the christian church under the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco and many other dictatorships often served as an enabler of evil.  There’s also the fact that religious wars decimated the European population for the past 2,000 years and church wielded too much power over nations.  But I would like to highlight some “invisible factors” that are often not seen which create huge obstacles for the evangelical church and frustration for its leaders.  It is my hope that understanding these invisible factors will help European evangelical churches to make adjustments or at least help them set their expectations correctly.  The success of American Evangelical churches (not to mention those in the non-Western world) hangs over the heads of many European Christian leaders like a dark cloud of condemnation.  Does that have to be the case?

Factor 1:  Volunteerism

The evangelical church that arose out of England, Scotland and particularly America had a strong activist strain.  Especially in the United States, the DNA of evangelical christianity was rooted in taking action, evangelism (marketing), and competing against other faith groups.  In order to do that, a lot of volunteers were required.  There were strong expectations that once you were part of the church, you worked for the church unpaid.  That came easily to Americans, who as Alexander de Tocqueville noted in the 19th century, were activists by nature.

Europeans, on the other hand, come from high-churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism), where duties fell to the priests and nuns.  Attending mass was the only obligation, the professionals did the rest.  The fact that most American evangelical churches have quite a large number of people who are willing to put in 10 to 20 hours a week in the church to run the nursery, cut the grass, or serve in long board meetings is really quite unusual and something often taken for granted.  The evangelical church is highly dependent on people volunteering their free time with no expectation of financial reward. 

Factor 2:  The part-time pastor

In the United States, the vocational pastor is now being lifted up by some as a better option to the paid full-time pastor.  The idea is that this gives the people more ownership and church involvement will increase.  But as we saw in Factor 1, people are more likely to step up if they come from a culture that values volunteerism.  The European pastor not only has little lay help, but they often have to work at a primary job in addition to running the church.  This easily leads to high-rates of burn out.  It also can result in churches that expect that pastor to do everything.  It’s a cycle that becomes hard to break.  Even if pastors decide to delegate and encourage more lay involvement, they are still dealing with an overall culture outside of the church (if not within), that doesn’t understand the concept of volunteering.

Factor 3: The commute

A further challenge for the European church is that the number of evangelicals and evangelical churches is so small, that often times the people within the church do not live in the neighborhood of the church.  In fact, they may be commuting on the metro for 1 hour in Rome or Paris just to get to their congregation.  This also makes lay-leadership difficult.  The churches are often not that well-integrated into the neighborhood so they can’t really affect much change.  They may not even reflect the culture of the neighborhood in which they are located.  The commute also means that congregants are not available for many activities or lay leadership positions throughout the week.   In the United States, many churches draw from their towns, suburbs, or at least have a high population of people who own cars and can easily drive to the church throughout the week. 

Factor 4: The minority complex

Because there are so few evangelical churches, the people within the church often feel marginalized by society.  They are usually looked down upon (as religious kooks or part of a cult), and they may even face persecution in countries like Russia.  There may also be subtle “soft” prejudices they have to deal with, such as landlords and city officials that do not want to give building permits, lease a room, or grant a visa to missionaries.  This may not result in physical harm or death, but it can be very demoralizing and make running a church extremely challenging. 

All of this can also lead to a separatist attitude.  Instead of engaging post-Christendom, the church is tempted to withdraw further.  It is very difficult to convert european non-Christians if the church is going to view only those that swallow the Gospel whole as people worthy of relationship.  Too often, evangelicals are quick to condemn all of European society as if it has nothing to offer.  This includes expressing a lot of hostility toward Catholics, Orthodox, or other state churches which these countries and cultures have been deeply shaped by.  It is like saying “All Samaritans are completely useless, you must leave Samaria on your own and come to us.”  There’s no sense that there may be important pieces of the dominant secular and religious culture that need to be engaged with and respected.

Factor 5:  Legalism

With such an overwhelming secular environment and feeling on the margins of society, evangelical churches in Europe are often very fearful of dying.  That fear manifests itself as legalism—an extreme intolerance for anyone who doesn’t practice Christianity exactly the way the stalwarts of the church do. 

It’s no coincidence that many European evangelical churches lose their young people.  The adults in the church become extremely protective of their church traditions and become very inflexible in theology.  Questioning the faith or expressing oneself differently becomes a problem.  In fact, for newcomers, taking too long too assimilate can be viewed as unacceptable.  The 19-year old recent convert that still has piercings, or dresses too provocatively, or still smokes is not integrated into the life of the church, given responsibilities, or even walked alongside. 

The younger generations of the families in the church wrestle with a European, pluralistic world that the church does not even engage.  The answers that work inside the small evangelical church, don’t work for them at the university, playground or pub.  Too often, churches value their traditions more than they do becoming accessible to the very different culture outside of their doors.  When that culture of legalism enters into the church, they are often not willing to go on a journey with the converted individual, but rather expect them to very rapidly conform to the acceptable expression of Christiaity. 

Factor 6:  Power-blocks/Small family business model

Since so few people convert and the churches are small, it is often the case that evangelical churches in Europe are run by, or dominated by one particular family.  That family becomes the power-block that becomes impossible to displace.  One family may control all the decisions. Healthy decisions may not be made because it would be turning one’s back on family.  The church politics can become stifling. The reality is that the evangelical model can be very much like running small business. 

Since a small power-block has invested the most in the church, they have a hard time making room for new leadership.  They feel that they have paid their dues.  Healthy confrontation is avoided, and the church rises and falls on the commitment of that one family.  This happens outside of Europe as well, but it is particularly likely to happen in European churches because so few convert, and family influence is one of the main ways that people discover and commit to a religion. 

Factor 7: The Lack of a talent-pool

Evangelical churches are very dependent on having activities, programming, and outreach.  The end-result is that organization becomes a key factor and people with great skill-sets in that area are needed to keep it running.  In Europe, the church may have very few people so the diversity of skill-sets is very limited.  Furthermore, so few people want to be pastors, that it is quite often the case that the lead pastor is not particularly talented in a lot of the key areas required for evangelism and growth.  They may not, for instance, be very good organizers, or public speakers, or teachers; but these are the things they have to do to keep the church open.  Churches in the United States, the Philippines, and Nigeria may have a much easier time finding people who have church management skill-sets.  This is not to say that God cannot equip people—however many pastors struggle under the burden of working in areas that may not be their areas of strength.

Factor 8:  High expense/low income

Most Evangelical churches expect to have a band, at least a number of instruments, good audio visuals, a building space (preferably their own purchased space) and a variety of programs and activities.  All of this costs money.  It becomes a pretty high overhead expense when the church may have only 20 people. In some European countries, not having a church building of your own means the local people will never view you as a church and will always label you a strange cult.  Of course, Christians can remain on the fringe and marginalized as Jesus said we often would be; but most European churches don’t want to remain that way. They want legitimacy so they can engage the community.

It can also be hard to create tithers from the congregation.  Many live in countries where taxes may have to go to the state church, and so giving to their local evangelical church can seem like a second tax.  With long histories in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church, many Europeans are not used to the start-up business form of the evangelical Church.  These powerful state churches were not short of money, but the evangelical church seems to need it constantly.  It can be challenging for pastors to create this discipline of tithing, which means finances can often be a problem. 

Factor 9:  The Overly-expressive style

The fastest growing and largest churches in Europe are Pentecostal and often made up of ethnic groups that are comfortable with that style of self-expression.  Evangelicalism requires a lot of intimacy and high levels of trust.  In low-trust societies like Bulgaria, or societies where people are expected to keep their personal thoughts and issues to themselves (such as Sweden and Finland), the evangelical form of religion is completely unnatural.  The charismatic Christian may say that the joy of Christ will fill them up and they will become extremely extroverted.  But there’s room for the silent, the shy, the modest in the Kingdom of God and that is often not recognized. 

A sincere Finn may be very curious about Christianity and wanting a relationship with God, but the extreme extroversion required to show that one’s “on fire Christianity” may lead to discouragement.  Once again, a particular style---one that fits very well with African, Latin American, and North American cultures, does not necessarily fit well in Europe.

The growth, when it unexpectedly happens in a place like Sweden, is often made up from immigrant communities, people who were already Christian or raised in Christian households, or who are unusual in their country for being so comfortable with a charismatic way of self-expression. 

Factor 10: Imitating American evangelical structures/high maintenance

Quite a few European churches have looked to Bill Hybels and Rick Warren for guidance on how to do church.  But Hybels and Warren had churches in places with a high population of Christians, in a volunteer society, in a place of abundant wealth, and a place where Christian volunteers with excellent organizational skills are not hard to find (Chicago, Los Angeles).  They have the freedom to dream up anything: time-consuming programs, large activities, and money to promote those activities.  This is not the case in Europe, yet many evangelical churches in Europe feel the need to have a band, have a light show, and do all the extra things that American churches do so well.  It creates a need for lots of volunteers, lots of money, lots of organizational skill and lots of time---all things that can be severely limited in the European setting. 

Factor 11:  Outside players and division

It often seems to be the case that small churches in Europe receive new people from other small Evangelical churches who come into the church and assume leadership.  Time and time again, I’ve seen too many churches that have an outside Christian come in and critique the church and create a division in the church.  They are often opinionated, left their last church under a cloud, and after a “honeymoon period,” begin to critique their new small church. 

With so few churches to choose from, and almost all of the churches struggling, it becomes very easy for new folks to come in and target the church pastor and leadership.  They identify the pastor as too weak, or the church music as too dull, or the theology unbiblical.  The most common criticism is a “dead spirit” or a lack of charismatic worship.  Even though evangelical European communities are small, there is a lot of church-shopping, hopping and disgruntlement.  Outside players can become a big influence very quickly because there are so few people needed to influence change in the church. 

Factor 12:  Ethnic Churches

As previously mentioned, it is often the case that evangelical churches in Europe are primarily ethnic or made up of immigrants:  Jamaican churches in London, Nigerian churches in Ukraine, Arab churches in Paris, or Chinese and Korean churches in Madrid.  They were often started by the first immigrants to that community, or are a part of the new wave of evangelical missions from the Non-Western world to the West.  They bring dynamism and sometimes significant resources to the evangelical movement in Europe.

These churches, however, are often unaware of how much their church style is tailor-made to fit their particular culture.  Nigerian-style of worship doesn’t really fit the average Norwegian.  The tolerance for authoritarian leadership in a Lebanese church may not go over well with the average Dutch person who expects more consensual decision-making.  The insistence on only speaking Korean and reaching Koreans, may alienate the secular French person. 

Often, ethnic churches are seeking to praise God and do discipleship, but they also are trying to preserve their cultural heritage.  Quite often they are unaware that they are structured in such a culturally-specific way.  It is often the case, as well, that they have no interest in reaching out to those of different nationalities. 

Factor 13:  The Cultural Christianity Factor

Because evangelicals are often demonized by Catholic, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Orthodox believers, they often retaliate by demonizing in return.   There are obviously key theological differences that are important and legitimate, but too often the evangelical forgets that the European’s whole society and family structure can be tied to their state religion.  Not being a part of Catholic or Orthodox rituals can have a dramatically isolating effect.  As with Muslims, the evangelical views these other Christian expressions as false teachings with nothing useful. 

The evangelical church often wants to separate from these other faith traditions and theology, but ends up removing them and demonizing them to the point that it is much more difficult for the church to be the salt of the Earth within the larger culture.  This is not always necessary. 

Insurmountable Obstacles? Moving Toward Hope

Most likely, doing church in Europe will always be difficult.  The continent has a lot of negative religious cultural baggage and secularism runs deep in Europe.  However, many evangelical churches are making things more difficult for themselves or living under an unnecessary cloud of self-condemnation. 

In order to be free to thrive, evangelical churches need to make some adjustments.  Churches need to be rooted more in community than trying to create an institution on a particular city block.  The church truly has to be the people.  There’s no need to offer every program, meet in the exact same location, or have all the extra equipment we see in most churches around the world.  Simply having a community that practices the faith together is enough.   Most people convert through friendship, family or crisis.  The European church needs to simply have a strong community that reflects a hopeful alternative to dead religion or secularism.

Pastors need to equate success more with journeying with people through life, than putting on a Sunday event and seeing numerical growth.  The secular European has a long way to go when they discover Christianity and it takes patience.  They need a community that will extend grace and love unconditionally.  They don’t need to be quickly viewed as someone to help manage a high-overhead organization or propagate the faith.  It means allowing the younger generations to look different and express their faith differently.  It means allowing the men’s barbeque or woman’s dinner and Bible study group to be the main point of community and the church.

It also means following the organic growth.  If the men’s barbeque or woman’s dinner and Bible study group is the place where the most intimate community is experienced, let that be the main focus of church.  There’s no need to expect a stereotypical Sunday service to be what defines the strength of the church.  It’s the barbeque that might truly influence the neighborhood and win new people.  Go to the places where there is traction, taking the Bible, prayer, and community as you go.  It may not be the case that those strongest moments of community are on Sunday or at the weekly Bible study and that is okay.  In the European context, it is probably better. 

Ethnic churches have to be honest about whether they really want to preach the Gospel to all the nations or just one.  And pastors need to be honest about their skill-sets and do the things they can do well—instead of trying to replicate everything done in the average American church. 

Instead of demonizing all of Catholicism or Orthodoxy, evangelical churches need to look for overlap.  It’s often the case that people in these other branches of Christianity are attracted to the intimacy and immediacy of evangelical faith, as well as the emphasis on community.  The old faith can be the one where they remain a cultural part of their family, while the evangelical faith can be their heart faith.  This will prove to be too controversial for many, but it is my opinion that without making that distinction between “cultural faith” and “heart faith;” a lot of people are being denied the opportunity to experiment and fall in love with Jesus.  There are plenty of Russians, Finns, Italians, and Greeks who want to have a genuine Christian faith experience.  They’ve never known there was an option outside of their national/cultural faith.  It is easy for evangelicals to view religion as something individualistic that we choose; but in many European cultures, national and family identity are inseparable from daily life.  There should be grace extended so that they may discover a form of Christianity they didn’t think possible. 

It is a myth that there was once a time when Europe was super-Christian.  Europeans often had a hard time leaving their pagan religions behind, there was often plenty of skepticism toward the church, and religious fervor and devotion was found in few people.  The reality is that few want to follow the revolutionary life of Jesus.  And in many places like Korea, Nigeria, and the United States, there are large churches filled with people that are simply going through the rituals—even in evangelical churches.  Doing church is always difficult in this fallen world.  But European churches have the opportunity to be free, and think outside of the box, by placing community ahead of institutional preservation.  It is certainly possible that the adaptable European church could be a model for the whole Christian world. 

 

About the Author:  Patrick Nachtigall is the Regional Coordinator for Europe and the Middle East for Global Strategy and leads the Three Worlds Team.  He is the author of 5 books on Christianity and globalization including "In God We Trust?:  A Challenge to American Evangelicals" and "Facing Islam Without Fear:  A Christian's Guide to Engaging the Muslim World" (also translated into German).  He has an M.A. from Yale University and has been to nearly 80 countries examining the church in a variety of settings.  Originally from Costa Rica, he has worked in Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.  He lives in the Black Forest, Germany with his wife Jamie and son Marco.  He is available for consultations and public speaking.

Jamie Nachtigall: Hard at Work Around the World.

Jamie Nachtigall

Jamie is in Madrid, Spain this week hard at work. Among many of Jamie Nachtigall's duties as Regional Coordinator for Europe and the Middle East, getting employees settled in their new home-country is a key part of the job. Each country presents its own cultural and bureaucratic challenges. Getting work-permits, visas, tax ID numbers, submitting lots of official documents, birth certificates, and licenses is just the beginning.  Having grown up in Egypt and with plenty of experience living overseas in North Africa, Europe, and Asia; she is perfect for the job.  

In addition to that initial international paperwork, there is needing to teach new workers how to handle banking on two continents with multiple accounts, dealing with different currency exchange rates, and looking at real estate and furniture-shopping options in the new country. This includes dealing with foreign real estate websites and agencies. 

Then there is the emotional part: helping families process the move, prepare the family to become bi-cultural, locating the right school for the kids, helping minimize the culture shock and cultural adjustments, and helping set up a new (global) work routine where there is no normal anymore. There is also much needed preparation on the kinds of conflict that can arise in marriages and parent-child relationships when one re-locates overseas. 

Then there is all the financial training, learning to separate air and personal expenses, policies on operating fiscally responsible and preparing to pay US taxes as a citizen abroad. It's amazing that Jamie can navigate all these cultures and bureaucratic hurdles with ease. It's truly a unique skill. And all of this is just a small part of the job she does for Three Worlds. Thank you, Jamie!

ANNOUNCEMENT:
The Launch of Europe X

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You have probably heard of the 3W Leadership Network (3WLN) which encourages, connects, and mobilizes Church of God people in ministry under the age of 45 in Europe and the Middle East.  We have seen great, positive effects for our region due to the creation of 3WLN and the regular 3WLN meetings (3WLN 3.0 will take place in Interlaken, Switzerland October 22-26, 2018). Now we are creating our first 3WLN sub-group/network:  Europe X.

Europe X will be connecting young 3WLN Pastors that are wanting to multiply their churches, and do ministry in the appropriate paradigm for Post-Christendom Europe.  Together, this group of pastors and their wives will share about the journeys their churches are taking, their hopes and dreams for ministry, and learn from each other and experts about organization, strategy, and Christian leadership.  It will also be yet another way of creating a supportive, inter-connected group of pastors and churches in the European Church of God as we focus on giving the young generation the support they need for long-term survival in ministry.

The new Europe X Network launches April 8th-10th in Budapest, Hungary.  Young Pastors from France, Italy, Russia, England, and Spain will be gathering at the Budakalász Church of God to begin this ministry journey together.  Europe offers some unique theological challenges and obstacles to multiplication.  And the youngest generation in ministry rarely has an adequate support system around them as they take the risk of going into ministry at a young age.  Europe X hopes to make a big difference and take our region to a new level of connection and growth.

Q to 3W: Should People Who Feel Called Go to the Mission-field Alone?

Every once in a while, someone will "feel called" to become a missionary and plan to go alone; independent of a mission-agency.  Usually, they raise the money themselves or have their home church sponsor them.  But is it a good idea to go out on the mission-field alone?

We’re very skeptical of people who say they “feel called” and don’t have an emotional, spiritual, and strategic supporting agency in place.  Usually these people have a lot of good-hearted zeal and love the Lord; but the reality is that you can’t skip steps—and being mentored and having the right experience is the way to have a lasting impact--and not do damage to yourself.  Specifically, there are a number of things to consider before going or sending out someone to be a missionary all alone.  

 

  1. The Danger of Burn Out:  The rate of burn-out for missionaries is extremely high.  The average missionary lasts 1 year.  The average 'career missionary" lasts 4 years.  At 3W, we only accept those that can commit to 7 to 10 years; leaning more toward 10 minimum.  It takes 4 years just to understand the culture and the language, so it’s not worth investing so much in people that can’t affect long-term change.
  2. The Emotional Challenge:  Many people are traumatized on the mission-field. There are very high rates of depression and there are those that come home broken;  it’s just not often talked about in the church and sometimes there’s shame for those who come home under less than happy circumstances.  Emotionally, It’s a dangerous, very high-stress job.  It challenges you to your very core.
  3. Strategy is very important.  Many go out just thinking that they will convert people or serve people on the streets not understanding that there are many things that you should and shouldn’t do in those situation.  Evangelism can really differ from culture to culture and the American-style is not always the most effective.  That is especially true in Europe.  Ministry to the needy is good, but you will be faced with many emotionally-wrenching experiences and ethical dilemmas.  You have to be prepared to emotionally handle the fatigue that comes with seeing things not always turn out well, despite a lot of prayer and investment.  
  4. Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges to the missionary life.  So people going without any kind of a team or support system is not a good idea.  As a missionary, you are often someone that the vast majority of people can't relate to:  both in your home country and in your foreign location.  It's important to have a community that understand the very unusual and unique challenges of this kind of life.  
  5. The need for wholistic support:  Mission-Agencies, when they are healthy, can offer mentoring, development of strategy and fundraising approaches, teammates to work with, a network of donors, health insurance and spiritual and emotional support (Member Care). These are a lot of important aspects that the lone individual will have a difficult time replicating.
  6. Are you really needed?  Another issue is how the missionary fits into the mission-field they are going to be serving.  Do they mess up the ministry ecosystem that currently exists, or will they create new dependencies, or bring imbalance to a team or ministry?  Is the host country truly open to missionaries or will they be weak in their support?  Are there behind the scenes church politics that make it a bad time to serve as a missionary.  Are they doing things that really would be done better and cheaper if a local Christian did them?
  7. Getting Permission to Live in a Foreign Country.  It’s pretty hard to just go to a country in many parts of the world and get permission to stay in the country for more than 3 to 6 months.  You need a local organization in that foreign country to sponsor you and your job needs to be something that local people cannot do.  That local organization will be held accountable for you legally.  It is often necessary to have a foreign organization also sponsoring you--one the foreign government will investigate.  Often you need to have proof that you have a significant amount of funds in a bank account to guarantee that you are not coming to a foreign country to live off of their welfare system.  In most of our countries, the visa application process is very complicated and closely scrutinized.  There are definitely many countries where we cannot place anyone.  Some countries have very tight restrictions since 9/11 and many have become hostile to immigration.  The process of getting permission to live in a foreign country is often a very stressful one for missionaries, who are never guaranteed that the country will say "yes," even after they have lived there for a while.  

For our 3W Team working in the Europe and Middle East we look to hire people that have considerable experience working in ministry and who are particularly gifted at being mentors to young generation leaders.  We expect a commitment of 7 to 10 years to make the training, finances, and connections that we provide worth it for the long-run health of EME.   Teammates have to be extremely committed to team unity and not seek elevation for themselves; as the whole purpose of 3W is to empower the next generation of leaders from the Europe/Middle East.  All of our missionaries are placed in catalytic roles where they are creating synergy and helping us reach our 3W Prism:  1) Engaging Young People in Ministry 2) Supporting and Empowering Leaders Under the Age of 45 and 3) Creating inner-connectivity in the Europe/Middle East Church of God.  A lot of our work involves consulting and tracking with congregations and pastors that are making major re-calibrations in their ministry.  Consequently, relevant experience really matters a lot to 3W.

As Global Strategy missionaries, we receive the support of a team back in Anderson, Indiana advocating for us and supporting us, while also providing the framework to represent us as employers in the United States and to vouch for us to foreign governments.  They play a critical role in enabling us to truly live here long-term.

There are people that have gone on the mission-field alone with no support that have done a good job.  Usually, they are couples, or one person in the couple is a national from that country, or they are singles that are short-time.  It is possible, but there are a lot of logistical issues to overcome alone and it is high-risk.  For us, there is no need to to take that risk and we try to minimize the damage that can happen to missionaries on the field as much as possible.

It's always necessary for the call to be strong, but since that can easily be a subjective, or overly-emotional decision, it is also good to have that call confirmed by wise friends that are in prayer with the potential candidate.  And then there are still many logistic things to consider.  Overall, we don't recommend it for the reasons listed above, but of course God can use anybody at anytime in any way he sees fit.  

Interview with Europe/ME RC Jamie Nachtigall

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Q:  What do you do, Jamie, as Regional Coordinator?

Jamie:  My responsibilities primarily include the finance side of our work; which includes Living Link budgets for our entire team, finance reports, project supervision, and basically monitoring the overall financial state of the 3W Team.  I also do the personnel/human resource side making sure the needs of our team are met; whether that be through help with visas or residence permits, field-preparation for a new missionary, and all the details involved with settling in to a new life overseas—the logistical details.  And along with Patrick, I also serve as the primary go-between for the missionaries and the office of Global Strategy in Anderson.  This involves a lot of email communication, zoom calls, and making sure policies are being followed etc.  

 

Q:  What is the most difficult part of your job?

Jamie:  I would say 2 things:  Due to the nature of our work and the travel involved, sometimes it can be hard to balance the pacing and the work-load.  Our motto is “no routine is the new routine.”  The second thing is that being more introverted by nature, the people-management and relational side of the job takes a lot of energy.  I enjoy that side of it and it gives me a sense of fulfillment when I feel I am helping people, but at the same time, it zaps my energy.  

 

Q:  What part of the job do you find most rewarding?

Jamie:  I really like keeping things organized (laughs), but probably the most fulfilling part is helping our team process what it means to live cross-culturally and how to navigate the complexities of family life overseas.  That kind of stuff.  

 

Q:  Marco recently had an unexpected health issue, what happened?

Jamie:  At the tail-end of our family Christmas getaway in Austria, Marco started having pretty extreme abdominal pain.  So we managed to make it home and immediately went to the doctor and they sent us immediately to the ER with suspicion of appendicitis.  Within 12 hours, we drove from Austria back to Germany, saw the doctor, went to the ER and had surgery.  Thankfully, the hospital is only 10 minutes from our house.  And Marco was released to go home just in time for Christmas.  He is now doing great and getting back to normal.  

Q:  You were a third-culture kid that grew up in Egypt and now you are raising a TCK.  What are the challenges of raising a child in a different country?

Jamie:  Maintaining a sense of identity, especially a national identity is really challenging.  Marco has only spent, altogether, less than 2 years of his entire life in the USA and mostly under the age of 5.  So he has a pretty limited understanding of what it means to live in America or to be an American.  As a TCK myself, also having limited ties to the USA, it’s hard to help him have a national identity when my own is so fluid.  

I think another major issue that TCKs and missionaries face is that living cross-culturally really forces you to understand and examine your personal values.  Because a lot of the times the values that we hold dear can be very bound to our primary culture.  And when TCKs navigate between multiple world-views, it can be challenging to identify what their core values are.  And in fact, their values may change depending on what culture they are in at any given point.  Some might think that that is relativism or lack of solid values, but it’s not; it’s actually a very complex navigation of different values and cultural values.  TCKs are often very adept at living with that reality.  

Q: Can you give us an example?

Jamie:   A very simple example would be the value of time.  Do you value people being on-time or prompt.  That can change totally depending on what culture you are in.  In Germany, being prompt and even early is a very strong expectation.  Whereas in the Middle East, time is not based on the clock but based on relationship.  So it could be very fluid.  Another example would be patriotism for a country different from where you live.  It can be even more challenging if your host culture sees patriotism and nationalism as something somewhat dangerous.  As Americans, patriotism is a very high value, but in other parts of the world, that kind of patriotism and nationalism has often led to war.  So that gets pretty complicated for a 15 year old (Marco) to figure out.  

Q:  What do you do for fun and what kind of hobbies do you have?

Jamie:  I really enjoy jigsaw puzzles; any kind of puzzles really.  Logic puzzles, number puzzles.  I also enjoy reading although I have not been keeping up with that recently.  I enjoy spending time in our garden.  This is the first time since I was a kid that I have had a yard to do anything in.  

Q:  You used to be based in Berlin.  Now you are in the Black Forest.  What are the differences and what do you miss about Berlin?

Jamie:  Well, Berlin is a very large city and our town now is a village with less than 4,000 residents.  So it was a big move from urban to rural.  The key differences have to do with that:  the accessibility to things, there’s less English spoken, and our area in the Black Forest is known to be the sunniest part of Germany.  Berlin, being so far North, could often be quite dark, especially in the winter.  

I miss the urban setting of Berlin.  For me, cities feel safe and the countryside is a bit scary.  I miss the multi-culturalism of Berlin and I miss the access to cool events and cool restaurants anytime you feel inclined to do something.  I like driving and I particularly enjoy city driving so I miss that too.  

Q:  You were recently at the Regional Coordinator meetings in Cairo.  There has been a lot of transition lately, can you update us on what is happening?

Jamie:  The most significant change is that in late-fall, our Global Strategy Director, Ben Shular, accepted additional responsibilities within Church of God Ministries.  As a result, we in Global Strategy have a new director, Dr. Andrew Gale.  Our family has known Andrew for a number of years and we have consistently been impressed with him.  This was the first RC gathering with Andrew as our new director, and he did a great job.  

We’re really excited to not only have Andrew leading us, but we also have Ben advocating for missions and global ministry.  His new role keeps him involved.  

Another big change for us is that finally, after a long wait, we have RC colleagues in Latin America.  This was also Jason and Abby Torgeson’s first time to meet with our Global Strategy RC team.  They will be a fantastic addition!

Q:  What are you most hopeful about regarding the CHOG?

Jamie:  Of course, a huge focus of our 3W Team is to encourage and facilitate emerging young leaders that will lead the church in the coming 15 to 20 years.  it’s been really exciting to see quite a few people choosing to invest their lives in ministry and in leading the church forward.  It’s also exciting to see younger couples accepting the call to cross-cultural missions.  

 

Nicola and Suellen Answer the Call in Italy

One of the great thrills of working in the Europe-Middle East Church of God is seeing how many young leaders are emerging that are committed to stay with the Church of God in the future.  Though the Three Worlds Leadership Network (3WLN), young pastors and others between the age of 20 and 45 that are working for the church can stay in contact with each other, do ministry together, and be a source of encouragement and synergy.  At our latest 3WLN, our newest Pastor couple were Nick and Suellen Lovaglio.  

Nick (Nicola)grew up in the Church of God and is the son of Pastor Nicola Lovaglio and his wife Bertha.  His father was an Italian missionary from the Church of God that was influential in starting many churches in the country of Venezuela, where Nicola and his brother Marcos were born.  Marcos and his wife Katherine serve at pastors at the growing, youthful church in Arco, Italy.  There Marcos has developed an outstanding team of young leaders in ministry.  

Nick, 30, plays violin and was involved in another church with a band when he felt the Lord was calling him to assume leadership at the Treviso Church of God.  Established nearly 7 years ago, the Treviso church was finding itself needing to re-start and re-adjust often.  Nicola and Sueellen could see that the church would need to re-configure itself a bit to begin reaching Italians who are very suspicious of Evangelical Christianity.  One of the first changes was moving the service to Sunday morning as the traditionally Catholic people had a hard time conceiving of church in the evening.  This meant making sure a facility could be rented on Sunday mornings, which they recently secured. 

Many young pastors in Europe are seeing that they have to do ministry completely differently to truly reach Europeans as opposed to immigrants that are already Christians.  Nick, who has a heart for mentoring, is a skilled carpenter highly valued by his company.  His hope is to mentor many in the ways of the Lord.  As is common with many of our young European leaders, they don't care about being the big boss or accruing power in the church.  This is so refreshing!  They are all committed to investing in the next generation in the same way the 3W Team invests in them.  

Suellen, who studied at the University of Venice, is a wedding planner and as a tremendous gift for hospitality.  This is something that can be used greatly for ministry as a team from Lifepoint Church of God in Goshen, Indiana recently found out when they had an amazing Brazilian barbecue dinner hosted and prepared by Suellen and her family.  Every meal includes a special violin performance from Nick which always adds something very special to the evening.  

Nick and Sueellen are extremely happy to be connected to the Church of God movement and to 3WLN.  Ministry is extremely lonely in Europe and they do not feel adequately prepared for such a huge job.  They are taking courses in theology and asking for the Three Worlds Team and others to come alongside and support them.  Both are very humble and open to learning.  

We are excited to see what God does through this young couple in Treviso  just a few miles north of Venice, Italy.  Pray for Nick and Suellen and support 3WLN which is creating a wonderful support-system for young pastors in Europe and the Middle East.

 Nick and Sueellen join the Church of God as pastors in Treviso, Italy.

Nick and Sueellen join the Church of God as pastors in Treviso, Italy.

Paris Ministry Celebrates 1st Anniversary!

When Samir Salibi moved to Paris, France as a 12 year-old, non-Christian immigrant from Lebanon, little did he know that one day two decades later,  he would be coming to the rescue of many migrants and displaced people himself.  But that is exactly what happened, and on December 2nd, members of the Three Worlds Missionary Team in Europe and the Middle East were in Paris to celebrate the first anniversary of this revolutionary new ministry.

Two years ago, Europe was suddenly inundated by refugees and migrants escaping war and poverty from throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  More than 10,000 refugees have descended on Paris, and the government has tried to place them in villages around the countries. Many first arrive in Paris and live on the streets until their paperwork can be processed.  Makeshift tents adorn the streets under bridges in the Port de la Chapelle area of the city.  

What started as one man's response to the refugee crisis, has blossomed into a new Church of God ministry that is pulling together Evangelicals from all over Paris and other parts of France.  Samir, a gifted leader in I.T. and in ministry, has the ability to provide visionary leadership that can mobilize many people.   Before long, there was a large crew of Church of God believers as well as people from many other denominations and ethnicities serving the Lord together.  Samir quickly became the linchpin that held it all together and was praised by the leader of the Evangelical churches in France for his superb leadership.

The ministry, which Samir called "@home" is meant to convey a sense of belonging to all who are served or worship with the Christian community.  The refugees and migrants may be lost and displaced, but there is always a home for them--amongst this Christian community of faith.  The government tries to provide assistance and other non-profit groups drop off supplies on the streets.  But what quickly became evident to Samir was that none of these groups were truly viewing these refugees in a wholistic way---as complete people with a wide variety of needs.  

Samir began to mobilize volunteers to distribute food, blankets, and items like gloves; the basic needs for survival.  He then invited them to worship services where they could hear the Gospel.  Meanwhile, the Christian volunteers from different denominations met, planned and worked together.   Before long, Samir was offering french lessons, and other things that the refugees would need to integrate into society.   But then the next step was to offer things that gave them the value and joy that we all need in our daily lives.  There was a sports ministry,  art and dance classes, dinners and Bible Study classes.   A group from YYAM even sent a group to paint the faces of the refugees to raise awareness.  Out of all of this evolved a church:  @home; a church borne out of the needs of the least of these.

Sadly, Samir faced the greatest resistance from Christians who wanted to stay inward looking, or felt threatened by the dynamism of this new ministry and new model.  Samir and his family were not spared personal attacks that were very hurtful.  But he was sustained by the Three Worlds Team (Europe and the Middle East) that has known him for 7 years and seen the high level of integrity and Christian maturity in which he deals with everything.  Pastors from the United States and donors in the Church of God have lifted up Samir during the difficult times, and the ministry is now flourishing.  

With such a large sphere of influence amongst the refugees and migrants, Samir is looking to find facilities where refugees and migrants can Samir is looking for spaces where migrants can go to church.  Others are directed to Evangelical churches that are prepared to integrate them.  There is still a tremendous need as the 3W Team found out on a recent visit when snow and cold wind fell on the poorly-sheltered people on the street.  Fortunately, Samir's church model took the church directly to the streets and serving the people and building community is the heart of the church.  By "caring for the least of these," God has greatly anointed the @home ministry.  Samir is looking for people that would like to partner with him and help support this out-of-the-box, new paradigm of ministry and church.   Donations can be given to Global Strategy's Paris @home project #42.30501

Should We Be Worried About North Korea?

 

 

When President Obama briefed President Trump in November, he warned Trump that North Korea would be his most difficult problem.  Why should this be the case?  North Korea has routinely been threatening to go nuclear and bomb other countries for decades.  Literally every Spring, North Korea fires a few volleys of missiles to make everyone nervous.  They also make threats around any U.S. election.  Then there is the way they test missiles whenever their food supply gets too low or feel like ISIS and Al-Qaeda get too much attention.  This has been an empty piece of kabuki theatre for so many years that it's hard to believe this time it's serious.  Unfortunately, there is reason to think something has changed.  

A GIANT PRISON CAMP

North Korea is a very weak country.  It is stuck in the 19th Century.  The bulk of it's 22 million people live hand to mouth farming as if it were 200 years ago.  Very few, even in the capital city where the elite live, have regular electricity.  There is no internet.  The few shoddy goods the North Koreans trade are purchased almost entirely by China (85%).  North Korea has no allies, and there are no guarantees that their large military has the food, fuel, or supply-lines to keep a war going for more than a few days.  

Neither is there much proof that their weapons are any good.  We only see the outside of the missiles in parades, and North Korean tests fail far more often than they succeed.  The country is really just a giant prison camp.  The North Koreans live in constant fear of being sent to prison camps which are horrifically brutal.  Regular beatings, torture, even the crushing of the skulls of infants are regularly reported.  Entire families of multiple generations can be sent to prison for the most basic offenses.  All of this is led by a small group of geriatric, authoritarian leaders and whichever Kim is alive.  Currently, it's Kim Jong Un.  People are taught that that Kim Il Sung, his grandfather and founder of North Korea, is God.  His also deceased father Kim Jong Il plays the Jesus role, and the Holy Spirit of revolution is "Juche." For most of the last 60 years, the average North Korean truly believed that their country was the greatest, their leaders gods, and that they were constantly on the brink of war with South Korea and the USA.  Years of being cut-off from the normal world left them starving to death, mentally and physically impaired, and unable to cope with or understand modern life.  There is simply no country as dysfunctional or bizarre as North Korea.  Nothing is even close. Once it collapses, the stories that will come out of there will leave the world stunned.

DANGEROUS CHANGES

For the most part, North Korea has been full of hot air and empty threats.  I lived in South Korea just after the great famine and there was a brief time in 1995 while I was there, that North and South almost went to war.  The trigger was almost pulled.  We dodged a bullet, and things returned to normal with North Korea claiming they could launch nuclear weapons and blackmailing the international community for foreign aid.  

The past 10 years, however, have seen some dramatic changes.  The death of Kim Jong Il put his inexperienced, twenty-something son in charge.  This seems to have led to a jostling for power and the execution of an uncle by aircraft fire.  There's rumors of more dissent at the upper levels of leadership. DVD's and Mp3's started to get smuggled into the country showing the North Koreans that the world outside was wealthy, modern, and peaceful.  Soap operas from China and South Korea were not only a hit underground, but showed how much the people had been lied to by their government.  Relations with their only (and even then), partial ally China deteriorated, and their natural distrust and disdain for the Chinese reasserted itself.  Last, a black market is flourishing and border guards have become easier to bribe as people seek to escape.

Meanwhile, North Korea has at least developed the outside shells of some new land and sea-based weapons that can easily reach Japan, South Korea, and they say, Los Angeles.  None of this can be verified, but experts now believe that by 2020, the North Koreans will be able to put a nuclear-tipped warhead on a missile that can reach L.A.  That is the issue Obama was most-likely talking about.  Can the world allow a nuclear North Korea?

WHAT WOULD WAR LOOK LIKE?

An option for Trump would be a pre-emptive strike.  On one hand, it was reported in Foreign Affairs Journal that the U.S. military now has the capability of destroying a nuclear missile before it leaves the silo.  There are also reports that the U.S. can now control the missiles after their launch thanks to cyber-espionage.  If true, perhaps a pre-emptive strike would work.  Unfortunately, it's much more complicated than that.  

For starters, the North Koreans have heavy artillery on the border which is a very short distance from the 12 million people of Seoul, South Korea.  Even if Kim was bluffing about his military power, there would be enough time to kill thousands, hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions in the very opening rounds.  In that sense, the people of Seoul are already hostages.  

The South Koreans and the U.S. would be able defeat North Korea's old, primitive, poorly led, and poorly supplied military.  That is for sure.  Nevertheless, in the time that it would take for that to happen, North Korea could also bomb and kill thousands of Japanese by firing over the Sea of Japan.  So the decision to fight really has to be in the hands of Japan and South Korea, not any U.S. President because once the war starts, Japan and South Korea; our allies, home of thousands of our troops, and juggernauts of the global economy, will take severe hits.  Not to mention that China could also be targeted or join in the fight against the U.S.  Neither outcome would be good.

It gets worse, Kim could have a nuclear capability or at least produce a dirty bomb.  If not that, then possibly a large chemical attack.  But let's say North Korea completely blows the opening act of the war and is defeated quickly.  The problem then is that North Korea is one of the most mountainous countries in the world.  Weapons and people would be able to be hidden all over the country--and probably are.  Thinks of the problem of Vietnam, but with even worse terrain.  It would take hundreds of thousands of troops to clear out every mountain, valley and cave; and how long would the resistance last?  Are Americans up to another 20 year war against insurgents?  What if, like in Syria, the region becomes engulfed in thousands of mini-militias all fighting the U.S and any other country involved?  This is all highly possible.  

This "good option" (a quick win), would make the situation in Syria look like a walk in the park.  Suddenly, we would have 22 million refugees fleeing militias and none of them would be remotely equipped to integrate into the modern world.  Food and housing alone would require assistance from the whole global community.  And then where to put them?   South Korea is already crowded, and how do they integrate millions of people that have been trained for generations to hate the South?  China already has 1.3 billion mouths to feed.   The U.S barely wants to take in a few thousand well-educated Syrians.  Are we going to take in 20 million North Koreans who barely have a 3rd grade education and suffer the effects of years of malnutrition?  

IS THERE ANY WAY OUT?

Starting a war in North Korea now would leave us with the biggest crisis since World War II within the first 10 minutes of the war.  The only half-way decent thing is highly unlikely:  a sudden regime collapse followed by a global effort to feed, educate, and partially re-integrate North Korea into the modern world.  Even then, a unified Korea would make both China and Japan nervous and lead the region to go nuclear.   Another better but certainly not rosy scenario is that the North Koreans don't fight at all and simply surrender.  That still would leave someone, or many countries, with the responsibility of occupying a highly populated nation of people who don't know how to survive in the modern world.  Then there would be the clean-up damage in Japan, South Korea, and even China due to our use of force.  Once again, that would seem to want to push all sides to go nuclear.

If Kim pulls the trigger first, then the U.S., South Korea, and Japan will respond immediately and some form of massive chaos will take place.  However, I think Kim is mostly bluffing.  He knows that having a nuclear weapon is what could have saved Saddam Hussein and Colonel Qadaffi from being toppled.  If the U.S does a pre-emptive strike, they better make sure Japan, South Korea, and China are part of the decision and ready to possibly lose hundreds of thousands of people and be inundated by refugees.  Let us hope the President has thought of all these complications.

One way or another, a moment of reckoning is coming soon, and there's very little reason to think that the U.S. striking first would be a good idea.  Sadly, the absolute best option might be for all the countries to get their own nuclear weapons, North Korea to slowly reform, and for the stale-mate to continue on for more decades.  You know the situation is dire when a bunch of countries that hate each other pointing nuclear weapons at each other for decades is the best solution.

 

The 12th Annual Patty Awards: Top 10 Books of 2017

It's time for the 12th Annual Patty Awards, where I give out the awards for the best books I've read in 2017.  All of the big stars are walking onto the Red Carpet.  Look, it's Lou Ferigno of "The Incredible Hulk" fame, and is that songwriter Stephen Bishop next to him?    Being rolled on the Red Carpet now Joan Collins alongside Robert Conrad and William Duvaine.  How great to see Peter Scolari and Heather Thomas!!  Yes, the biggest names in show business are here!  So let's get started! 

This year had it's fair share of duds.  Really, it was not such a great year, but there were at least 10 books that warrant making the list. 

10)  Chasing the Scream  by Johan Hari:  Why has the drug war lasted so long, and why has it been such an abysmal failure?  Hari not only looks at the current drug war, but goes back in history to see how illegal narcotics were dealt with.  He examines countries where drug treatment and changes have had dramatic effects in drug-use reduction.  He travels to Switzerland, Portugal, and Canada and finds that the number one thing determining the drug-free person from the chronic drug user is emotional connection to a trusted network of friends.  It's an eye-opening look at addiction from someone who was trying to understand why the addicts in his life were destroying themselves.  

9)  The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt: Why do we sometimes feel more like two people than one?  Why are some people more naturally contented than others?  What is the secret to overcoming dramatic adversities in life; and why are some destroyed and others thrive after massive trauma.  Looking at ancient wisdom, chemical reactions in the brain, religious practices, and biological tendencies, Haidt identifies the many variables that can affect our level of contentment.  Indeed, we are complicated.  

8) Barking Up the Wrong Tree:  The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker: This is a fun and enlightening book about common misconceptions that we have about success.  It turns out that nice guys really do finish last (for the most part), and 2.9 GPA students are more likely to become the next Steve Jobs than Valedictorians.  Crime creates street-gangs, not the other way around, and over-affirming your child is a quick way to lead them to a life of under-performance.  When are we at our sharpest, and why is it that IQ is not as important as we think?  This book is full of "a-ha" moments and is both scientific and funny.   There are tons of interesting stories from all sorts of people--famous and not-so-famous, that show how we often get it wrong when it comes to finding the secret to success.

7) In a Sunburnt Country:   by Bill Bryce:   For anyone interested in the history, geography, and culture of Australia, this is THE must-read.  Not only is Bryce very funny, but he did an enormous amount of research to pull out the very best facts about this unique island/country/continent.  As he travels around Australia, you realize how unique and mind-blowingly deadly Australian animals and insects are.  We all know that Australia is sparsely populated and full of empty spaces, but Bryce brings a whole new reality to this.  The distances and the danger of Australia's great expanse is brought across vividly.  And every page is filled with an astonishing fact or anecdote about Australian life and history.  Simply fascinating!

6) Born a Crime:  Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah:  Noah is the host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, but he was also a successful comedian in South Africa before that gig.  Noah's autobiographical book takes us back to his childhood in segregated South Africa when blacks were treated like animals under the cruel Apartheid system.  Noah's unique sense of humor and his poorly educated, but brilliantly resolute and spiritual mother come up with inventive ways to survive, laugh, and love amidst extreme poverty.  The stories are touching, give fascinating insight into South African life, but are also rip-roaringly hilarious at times.  A few of the stories will never leave my mind and will always bring a smile to my face.  The inventiveness and positivity with which so many African poor live their daily lives comes through glowingly in this great book.  

5) Target Tokyo:  Jimmy Doolittle and the Rage that Avenged Pearl Harbor by James M. Scott.  This book came in 2nd for last year's Pulitzer and probably should have won.  It's a lesser known moment in World War II, but after Pearl Harbor, Jimmy Doolittle--who despite his goofy name was a true man of character and an American hero---penetrated Japanese defenses and bombed Tokyo shaking the confidence of the Japanese war machine.  The challenges they faced, the complicated nature of their sea-air attack, and the exciting assault on the Japanese capital are told in riveting detail in a history book that reads like a movie.    History so well-written!

4)  Cardinal Sins by Andrew Greeley. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest that has written many novels.  In this one, two friends growing up in the 1940's and 1950's in Wisconsin feel called to the priesthood.  One is more sober-minded and the other is the more superficial and morally dubious.  It is the latter that increasingly raises in the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy making it all the way to the level of Cardinal--and possibly Pope.  Along with two female friends from their childhood, they try to escape their provincial town and are rattled by the many disillusioning experiences that life has a way of throwing at us.  Very good read and mature writing.     

3) The Haj: by Leon Uris.  Uris was my mother's favorite writer and she always wanted me to read his books; particularly The Haj.  This novel follows the story of an Arab man named Ibrahim who becomes the chief of a small village in Palestine.  It is the 1920's and the Jews are settling in the territory and by 1948, they will have established the State of Israel.  Along with his friend and neighbor, a Jewish leader of a Kibbutz named Gideon, the two try to keep the peace between Arabs and Jews but it gets increasingly more difficult as the 20th Century rolls on.  It's a great insight into what those years prior to the establishment of Israel were like.  

2) Homo Deus by Noah Yuval Harari.  Harari is an Oxford-educated secular Jew who teaches history in Israel. What happens when computers and their algorithms become more reliable sources of accurate knowledge than human beings?  Harari discusses how we've never lived in a world where something we created is more reliable, accurate, and intelligence than we are.  What are the consequences of this for humanity?  Harari argues that we have not even begun to deal with the philosophical questions that are coming at us at the speed of light.  

Envelope please:    AND THE WINNER IS….

1) Sapiens:  A Brief History of Humankind also by Noah Yuval Harari.   The prequel to "Homo Deus"; how did human beings get to the top of the food chain.  What were the specific developments over human history that gave homo sapiens such a massive advantage.  Harari talks about the development of the human brain, it's ability to create myths and stories that allowed for larger societies to organize themselves in complex ways, and the way the agricultural revolution brought good and bad to the world and human development.  Language, imagination, farming, and technology put human beings on a trajectory toward dominance--until they created the computer.   It's a stunning work filled with fascinating information.  

Honorable Mention: 

Murder in Matera:  A True Story of Passion, Family and Forgiveness in Southern Italy by Helen Stapinski. It's very hard to find fiction or non-fiction that does a good job of describing the unique culture of Southern Italy.  Matera, one of my favorite places in Italy and the village where "The Passion of the Christ" was filmed, is the location for this true story of a crime committed one-hundred years ago.  After a vacation in Matera, a woman from New Jersey begins to uncover secrets about one of her ancestors who was a murderess and whose crime is still remembered in the gossipy, little villages of Basilicata.  She moves there and does her own investigative work; and as she unravels the mystery; you learn a lot about Southern Italian culture and the Italian immigrant experience.  Lovely book and brand new.  

Biggest Disappointment:

Sicily:  A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra  by John Julius Norwich. Sicily is such an unusual place, with such a dramatic, ancient, history.  It's hard to understand why this comprehensive history book had to be as dry as it was; and devoid of truly captivating stories.  My quest for a great book on Sicily continues. 

 

Next Year:

Well, that's it.  The big stars are heading home and the limousines are pulling out.  We'll be back next year for some more book reviews.  Up next year:  a book about life in Appalachia, the story of ExxonMobil, the Norway youth massacre, a biography of Simon Bolivar, Vietnam Green Berets, and the latest in the biotech revolution.  Support your local library and read some great books this year!

What I wish "Pastor Dan" Knew about Missionaries by Daniel Kihm

What I wish “Pastor Dan” knew about Missionaries:

For 8 years, I served as Senior Pastor of Maple Grove Church of God, in Anderson.
For the past three years, I have been serving as a missionary through Global Strategy, based in the Netherlands. My wife and I did not enter this career change lightly, nor naively. But I have been shocked at these
7 realizations, which I wish I would have known while I was a pastor in Indiana. I humbly request that you read these and take them to heart, and secondly that you share this list with the members of your missions committees.

1. Stress
I completely understand the stress of pastoral ministry. But I have been shocked at the stress of missionary service. According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, which measures stress and its impact on our bodies, a score of 200 indicates a 50% chance of major health breakdown within the next two years. Veteran missionaries routinely score 600-700 on this inventory. The average score is even higher (800-900) in the first year on the field. This is absolutely crazy, and not a healthy way to maintain life! And yet, in our three years on the field, I can readily attest to these scores being accurate.

2. Re-Learning how to preach...through a translator.
Even as a kid, English came easy to me. Spelling, vocabulary, literature: some of my favorite school subjects. I used to analyze little words in crafting a sermon. Should I say ‘grand’ or ‘majestic?’ I wanted my congregation to understand what I was thinking. I honed my skill as a preacher for 17 years before becoming a missionary. And as a missionary, I found that I had to re-learn how to preach. Everything I said would be translated. And everything I said would be interpreted through different cultural lenses. One example: I tried to encourage them that my sermon was almost finished by saying, ‘Don’t worry. I’m rounding third and heading for Home.’ Then I had to spend the next several minutes giving them a primer on baseball so that they were not thoroughly confused. Even the most seasoned preachers are reduced to beginners’ level overseas.

3. Balancing ministry with connecting with supporters
It is pretty normal for pastors or church secretaries to contact missionaries asking for an update, a newsletter article, or asking for “just a quick video to share next Sunday with the congregation about ways we can pray for you and your people over there.” And yet, missionaries struggle trying to connect with, and appease, supporting churches while simultaneously doing the ministry they were sent to do. As a pastor, I wish I realized this as I recall times of contacting a missionary and giving them similar requests. It’s not unreasonable to give such requests to missionaries, but timelines and deadlines need to be flexible.

4. Languagelearning
In addition to learning a new culture, and the history of individuals, congregations and new countries, there are ministry tasks. In addition to ministry tasks, there is family life and all the joys that come with having a small child in a foreign environment. :-) In addition, though, missionaries are faced (often) with learning a new language. Studies show that for someone who is bi-lingual, it’s not that difficult to pick up a third language. However, it’s no secret that most Americans only speak English. Thus, learning a second language (sometimes even a second alphabet) is difficult. Especially for grown adults who are no longer in high school. This is no small task, and yet is critical for missionaries to understand and communicate the Gospel with the people whom they serve.

5. What to share in a Facebook world??
Family, friends, and ministry partners want to know what a missionary’s life is like. They want to hear ‘success stories’ and fulfilled prayer requests. And yet, missionaries struggle to share just enough so that supporting churches feel up-to-date, but at the same time not too much lest they reveal personal

information or condescending information in a world where everyone has Facebook and reads blogs. The people whom missionaries serve are people, not projects. Sometimes that severely limits what can be shared in social media, or even in other forms of communication.

6. Constant stress of fund-raising.
In addition to ministry and “life,” missionaries have to be on social media, and send out newsletters and blog posts, in order to connect with present and future ministry partners. This stress does not end when missionaries leave for their field of service. It is constant and never-ending, especially in a world where global economies fluctuate, and donors sometimes cease giving because their own budgets are getting tightened, or there is a change in lay or pastoral leadership.

7. Absence from family and friends, especially during holidays.
I am not trying to equate missionaries with military men and women who are stationed around the globe. One key distinction is that they are literally living in harm’s way, while many of us missionaries reside in more peace-filled lands. But we share feelings of separation from home: separation from families, friends, communities that speak our native tongue and appreciate the same customs and traditions with which we are familiar. Pray for your missionaries during any and all holidays. Pray for their families as many of us try to connect via Skype. But as we all know, as amazing as Skype and FaceTime are, it’s not the same as being able to hug your mom, grandma, or grand-child.

About the author:

Daniel & Christy Kihm serve with the Three Worlds team in Europe/Middle East, along with their daughter, Sofie. The Kihms will be on Home Assignment in the US (January-June 2017). If you have interest in hearing about their ministry, please contact them at kihms3w@gmail.com. They are actively seeking new financial partners in ministry as well, so if your congregation is looking to support additional missionaries, please keep them in mind. Additionally, you can follow their ministry on both Facebook & Twitter: @Kihms3w. 

The Making of "Us" by Audrey Weiger

The Making of “Us” by Audrey Weiger

“You fear that which you do not know.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Three Worlds Team in Europe and the Middle East entered into a partnership to help German Church of God congregations ministering to refugees. They brainstormed ways to make this partnership happen and decided to connect Glamorgan Church of God in Calgary, Canada, to the Bad Segeberg Church of God in Bad Segeberg, Germany.

“Some refugees have lost everyone in their family before coming here,” Christy Kihm explained in an introductory seminar for the Canadian group. She and her husband, Dan, and their daughter, Sofie, Three Worlds team members in the Netherlands, drove down to Hamburg to meet the Canadian group to help prepare them for the week ahead. The Kihms work with several churches who have large populations of refugees and are also adept at navigating cultural differences and challenges. They presented the full picture of the ministry that the Three Worlds team is doing in Europe and the Middle East, and gave some context for the interactions the Canadians would be having in the coming week. Having the context is critically important before entering into a situation. The Kihms made sure that the group was set up, as much as possible, to learn and understand.

“Even a simple, ‘Do you have siblings?’ question could throw someone into a downward spiral,” Christy continued. “Not all of them are here for the same reason, so if you see someone shutting down when you ask about a particular topic, move onto a different topic. Food is usually a safe topic, and it’s a good place to start.”

It wasn’t just the Canadians who were preparing for the week. Some refugees were very skeptical, but trying to keep an open mind. After they met, they realized how many connections they had, and deep friendships started developing. I was so impressed with how the Canadian group dove into those relationships — asking questions, playing games, dancing, and getting to teach the refugees and Germans how to play baseball. You could see the walls of skepticism and fear coming down as they played billiards and learned words in each other’s languages.

That Thursday the church gathered for their third culture night of the week. It was the Syrian Night. We had had the German and Canadian Culture Nights already, where Canadians, Syrians, Iranians, Afghanis, Germans, and Americans were all in the same space to learn from each other and to share about the things they love. Jan Anton, one of the leaders of the Arabic church, stood up to give greetings, “We have a mountain of grief in our hearts, but even so, we want to celebrate with you tonight. But first, we prepared a special film for you to see.”

We all trudged up the stairs into the sanctuary space of the more than 50-year-old building. The projector buzzed, and immediately we were caught with images of Syrian cities in their splendor and glory. Beautiful fountains, sculptures, high-rise buildings, and smiling faces captured our attention. This was the pre-war Syria that our refugee friends knew. Pictures of hundreds of people wearing Santa hats and huge Christmas trees at the center of Christmas celebrations were rolling before our eyes, and in the background the Arabic version of, “Angels we have

heard on high,” was playing. By the third time through the chorus, everyone was singing, “Gloria, in Excelsis Deo.”

Suddenly, pictures of the beloved Syria changed by war started scrolling. The very images that we had just seen with beautiful celebrations and moments of such tender joy, were now filled with bullets and rubble. Collapsed buildings covered the streets with militia behind barricades, and the Syrian anthem played solemnly in the background. Many of our Syrian friends stood up and began to sing, and a German carpenter sitting to my left began to cry. He was unashamed to show how he felt for his friends; to allow the sadness to wash over him in that same mountain of grief. At that moment, I looked around; there was barely a dry-eye in the whole congregation. Grief and longing are such a part of the human experience that they are intuitively understood across culture, age, gender, and language.

As we all walked, watery-eyed, downstairs again toward the food and celebration awaiting us, we saw friends hugging each other, comforting each other, and extremely brave souls (Syrian, German, and Canadian) opening themselves to each other. One of the Canadian women on our trip sat with several Syrian grandmas at a table. They had said it was a hard day in Syria, showed pictures of grandchildren still back in their homeland, and smiled a smile that was laced with deep sorrow.

“The Calgarians got to witness how we actually cry and laugh and sometimes mourn and often eat, dance and celebrate together as ONE group. This is very exciting because it takes away the fear of the unknown, which leads to so much conflict in this country.” said Frank Bonkowski, pastor of the Bad Segeberg Church of God.

With so much fear and misunderstanding as the backdrop, it’s difficult to expect an outcome that would promote unity and understanding. But getting to know someone can have that affect on a person. They’re not the “other,” they become part of “us.”

In one story we heard, a young man had owned an electronics shop and in walked the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. He liked her instantly, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day. He was a muslim, and she was a Christian. And she knew her faith was everything to her and was unwilling to give that up, even for a charming shop-owner. In Iran, one is not allowed to proselytize for the Christian faith, so she knew it was pretty impossible that he would become a Christian.

One day, she wore a little gold cross at the end of a chain around her neck, and four muslim men interpreted that as her trying to make converts to the Christian faith. They went to attack her, not realizing that the shop-owner would come to her rescue. He fought them off, and has a scar where he was stabbed in his right hand to prove it. After that, she decided to get to know him a bit better. He was introduced to Jesus through her, and did, in fact, become a Christian. They were married, and then had to flee the country because of their faith.

On the Sunday that we were with them, they were both baptized in the lake just down the road from the church. She came up out of the water, and began to cry. I could overhear one German, who knew them well, say, “This is such a dream for her.” The moment was so sweet and tender. One older German man, who had been teaching them German for the previous 4 weeks, was asked to say the blessing over their baptism. The couple call him, “Papa.” And he himself has been transformed by knowing this young couple, becoming more gentle and generous than he

ever thought possible. It is true that the Christian faith community can be one’s family. And the symbol of this couple’s baptism was not lost on the community in Bad Segeberg — a new start, a fresh beginning, a new family, a new “us.” Not only in faith, but for their life in Germany as well.

Many times the impact of this kind of mission trip can be very difficult to quantify. After creating such deep friendships in such a short time, it can feel like ripping a bandaid off a wound when it comes to saying goodbyes. Those friendships start to heal cracks in each of us we didn't even know we're there — a gap in understanding, or a perspective that was missing. And suddenly, with the separation, we see our lacking and at the same time feel more whole and have more compassion than before we met. After spending a week with others unlike ourselves (and yet eerily similar to ourselves) it can reveal to us our own brokenness and flawed perspectives. It can also provide a powerful platform of experience from which to speak to our own circles of influence upon return home. Sometimes, this sort of trip can be a catalyst for other events in the life of the local congregation. Sometimes, the ripple effects of the encouragement and learning (on both sides) are not realized until years later. But one thing is certain, each person was changed by this experience. The unknown became known, and the “other” became part of “us.” If only we would have the grace to extend our sense of welcome further. I am hopeful that the broader church can still do this. 

New 3W Missionaries: Introducing the De Franciscos

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We are very excited to announce that Alejandro and Carmen De Francisco are joining the 3W Team to serve as missionaries to Spain, as well as assisting us in Europe and the Middle East. The De Francisco's will be starting the Church of God in Spain and planting a congregation in Madrid. They have a vision to plant a network of healthy, self-sustaining, self-replicating congregations across Spain. Along the way, they will be raising up and training leaders for these congregations and making sure this network of churches will be fully integrated into the fellowship of the Church of God across the region. The De Franciscos will also serve across the Europe and Middle East region as the Three Worlds team’s consultants for healthy church plants.

Alejandro was born in Cuba, growing up as an atheist under Cuba’s communist regime. Carmen, born into a devout Jehovah’s Witness family, grew up as a Sandinista in Nicaragua. Their paths crossed in the 1980s when both received university scholarships to study in the Soviet Union, he for a degree in physics and mathematics and she for a degree in Russian language and literature. The couple eventually sought political asylum in Spain, where Alejandro’s father was living, later immigrating to Miami in the United States in 1991.

For the next ten years they served in that church as lay leaders, growing in faith. Alejandro found enormous success as the art director of the Latin American edition of PC Magazine and later PC World. But in 2001, God brought a new calling, one that caused them to leave everything behind to plant a Hispanic church in Tampa, Florida, alongside Oak Grove Church of God. And so Alejandro and Carmen stepped out in faith into what has now been fifteen years of planting Hispanic churches throughout Florida, including ten years on staff with Florida Church of God Ministries.

As Global Strategy missionaries, you ca support them and the church-plant in Spain by giving now online at http://chogglobal.org/living-link-donations/#defrancisco. You can also mail a check to Church of God Ministries, Box 2420, Anderson, IN 46018, with De Francisco, Project # 42.10097 in the memo line. To learn more about the ministry of the De Franciscos and how you can support them financially and in prayer, contact Debbie Taylor at DTaylor@chog.org or 765-648-2129.

The 6 Toughest Adjustments for New Missionaries

The life of a missionary can seem very exotic and exciting.  It often is; but it is also one of the  most stressful jobs in the world.  What could possibly be stressful?  Try this:  Constant fundraising pressure, low salaries, never being able to just live in your own language, being on the road constantly, dealing with cultural differences, watching your children have challenges in foreign school systems, separation from family and loved ones, living or traveling in high-risk locations where danger is always present, the pressure to prove you are worth the money to your donors, constant high-intensity people interaction (across cultures no less), and relentless Spiritual Warfare.  These are just some of the examples that make being a missionary, a very hard job. High rates of depression, spiritual dryness, marriage problems, and dropping out of missionary service can be attributed to these factors.  It is far different than visiting a country for a few days, weeks, months, or even a couple of years.  It alters your life permanently and changes you and your kids forever.  

But there are 6 particularly difficult things about the job that require a maximum paradigm shift for new missionaries; especially couples.  Being able to make the adjustments to these six different ways of living can mean the difference between staying on the field and leaving prematurely and burnt-out--even horribly wounded.  

1) No routine is the new routine   

We often get asked, "What does your typical day look like?"  That question is usually as impossible to answer as "Where are you from?"  Nothing is less routine than the life of a missionary.  We could be doing ministry one day, traveling to mission-fields the next, catching up on budgets and paperwork another day, and communicating with donors on yet another day.  We could be hosting a group for a week or two on end, or stuck at the offices of foreign governments trying to get our paperwork straightened out.  Then there's the constant need to update through newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype so that donors feel like they know what you are doing.  Once every few years, we have to completely upend our life and spend 6 months or a year on the road visiting a different church in North America every 4 days or so.  It never stops.  Life is never routine on the mission-field for most missionaries. Your life of predictable, comforting routines is over.  

How to survive #1:  We have to give up hopes of normalcy.  For most of us, it will never happen. Life is always chaotic and unpredictable.  The highs will be high, the lows will be very low.  And it will always be like that.  So, a life of mini-routines has to be established.  It could mean always trying to have dinner as a family (when at home), or taking a predictable family vacation together at a set-time every year.  Exercise, quiet time, and meditation/prayer will be vital to keeping sane. But overall, the expectation for the normal life has to be dropped.

2) It’s not a job for individuals; it’s a family job.

For some people, it's important that they are viewed as an individual that is a successful professional in their own right.  But being a married missionary means that my job and "my career" becomes "our job" and "our career."  The amount of things that have to be done are too much for one person, and your life and work are interwoven and overlaps in hundreds of ways.  One of you may have to always do the newsletter and social media, while the other plans the logistics of a work-camp.  Then you both have to host the work-camp and that could involve or displace your children!  The couple will always be linked to each other and viewed as "one unit."  We even call missionaries, "units," because you are never really hired as an individual.  You are always a couple, indeed a whole family (if kids are involved) that will be doing the job together.  

How to survive #2:  Understand that this is not the job for you if you need space from your spouse and want to be a professional in your own right.  Unless, you have very separate jobs, which is very rare, your life will have to be integrated with that of your spouse.  Make sure that specific job duties are clear and play to each others' strengths.  Learn to communicate extremely well as a couple and make sure that you find ways to give each other space, even if that space is severely limited.  

3) Your communication as a couple will grow or decline exponentially on the mission-field.

Being a missionary can be very hard on marriages.  The success of the missionary couple will often come down to how well the two communicate with each other.  Everything has to be processed:  the ministry, the fundraising, the managing of finances, communication with the home office and supervisors, how to raise the kids internationally, and many other things will test a couple's ability to make decisions and plans together.  The pressure of this will either give you a very close marriage based on excellent communication or will break down the couple's friendship and communication.  You will get much better or much worse at communicating as a couple.  

How to survive #3:  Work on your communication skills and develop your emotional-intelligence (E.Q.).  Personality assessments can be extremely helpful in understanding the many subtle differences that you and your spouse may have.  And make sure to pray together and for each other.  

4) It’s always a sacrifice:  You lose a lot!  

Yes, you do get to have some pretty exciting experiences and have a front-row seat to what God is doing in the world.  But as a missionary, you lose a lot.  Salaries are low, your family will be far away and may be very bitter that you are choosing to raise the grandkids overseas.  You may never fully fit-in to your home culture again (if you are long-term), and your children will not have the same affinity for your home country as you do if they genuinely grow up on the mission-field. Neither is it a glorified job, or even one that people will understand very well.  Your physical health may take a real hit from the constant high-level of stress.  And your health may never be normal again.  

How to survive #4:  Remember the quote from Jim Elliot, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose."  We don't do the job for glory, safety, or comfort.  We do it because we have a call to serve God; and there is a high cost to that call.  Being a servant is not glorious or showy.  And Nobody should expect it to be easy. You truly lay down your life.  

5) Whatever your weaknesses are;  the mission-field exposes them quickly.  

Are you a worrier, over-confident, temperamental, prone to anxiety, sensitive to temptation, have anger-management issues, dependent on security, co-dependent on someone, afraid of suffering and sickness, lazy about spiritual disciplines, in a shaky marriage?  Whatever your weaknesses are, it will be quickly exposed on the mission-field and Satan, plus the stress of the job, will continually poke your sensitive spots.  You will need to go through a massive process of refinement, or you will succumb to your weaknesses over time.  

How to survive #5:  Make sure that you are a self-aware person. Honestly, identify your strengths, weaknesses, and ask others to help you to honestly see yourself.  Take personality assessments, and reflect on the things that have tripped you up in life.  Counseling can be very helpful.  Pray that God will reveal to you areas where you need guidance.  

6) The nebulousness of the job

How do you measure success on the mission-field?  Usually people want baptisms, converts, or exciting projects like feeding the poor or helping orphans ("more photos please!")  But many of us do not have jobs that can be so easily quantifiable.  Furthermore, some of us are called to sow, others to water, others to reap the harvest.  God decides that; we don't.  For many people, the nebulousness of the job becomes a very stressful part of the life.  "Am I really making a difference?" "Have I achieved enough?"  "Was today productive?"  "What if my ministry doesn't last or the new Christians don't make it?"  "What did I do today that shows I am making a difference?" "What about all the things I do that don't make it in the newsletter?"  "Will anybody know or care?"  Especially for those coming from corporate jobs where targets and goals are so easily measurable or jobs where tasks are clear and routine, the missionary life can be a killer.  

How to survive #6:  For most missionaries, the job is always out of our control and tasks and success can be very random.  "Success" is truly hard to measure and it's all God's work anyway.  It is not a job for people that need that kind of constant affirmation and public validation.  One has to take the job in faith that God is using your sacrifice to make a difference in the Kingdom.   And the question becomes, "Do you have a call?" Not a mystical, spiritual voice from God appearing, but rather, is something in you making you feel like this job is something you must do.  That you won't feel released by walking away from it?  The answer needs to be "yes," or you are in real trouble.  

Before you dive into missionary life, think about these 6 paradigm shifts that will require difficult adjustments. If you are already on the mission-field, hopefully this essay will help make sense of why it can feel so challenging and how to respond.  Most of us would not give up our experiences as missionaries for the world (literally).  But, it truly is a call and a sacrifice.  Be wise, alert, and humble and you can not just survive, but thrive.  

Is Christian Persecution/Genocide Real?

Is Christian Persecution as bad as some are saying world and is Christian Genocide really happening?

The short answer is "yes."  We are currently living in a time of global Christian growth, but also of ramped up Christian persecution.  A 2011 Pew Forum study found that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world with problems in 130 countries (The U.S.A. is not one of them, sorry to disappoint).  In the Middle East, the number of Christians has dropped to just .06% of the World's total.  That is a 20% decrease in the last 100 years in an area that was once the center of Global Christianity before it shifted to the West. In the world today, there is both Hard Persecution and Soft Persecution.  Both make life very difficult for Christians.

Hard persecution entails blatant attempts to kill, torture, and extinguish Christians and their churches.  In some countries, like North Korea, this has been going on for decades.  The persecution is brutal and an entire family and all their relatives will be wiped out if one Bible is found hidden in a home.  Christians in North Korea are killed or languish in the world's worst and most brutal prison camps.  "Genocide" is a strong word, but ISIS in Iraq and Syria have a scorched earth policy.  Unlike Al-Qaeda, they decided that they would establish a Caliphate that ruled by terror intentionally and that meant wiping out other religions and Islamic sects.  Christian communities are being decimated in Iraq and Syria.  

The bombing of Christians in South Sudan is both anti-Christian and ethnic.  We see the same thing in northern Nigeria.  Pakistan and Bangladesh are both places where Christians are routinely attacked violently just for being Christian.  There are many cases of Hard Persecution currently around the world.

But there are also places that are much more subtle in their way of persecuting Christians.  It may involve making it near impossible to open churches, or keep buildings open.  It may be changes in laws that make it hard to register Christian communities.  In some countries, you may not be considered employable if you are a Christian.  "Christians Need Not Apply" can literally be found on the door.  Just earning a living can be difficult in some of these countries if you are a Christian. Or Christians may be spied on or monitored at all times.  Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and surprisingly, even Western Europe have places where things are intentionally made difficult for Christians.  Try opening a church, getting a building permit, registering a denomination, opening a bank account etc.  It can all be made very difficult in these countries where the goal is to eradicate Christianity under the world's radar.

India is currently an example of a country that practices both Hard and Soft persecution.  Under Prime Minister Narenda Modi, India is passing laws making it more difficult for Christian missionaries to enter the country.  Not adverse to stoking Nationalism, Modi encourages (or looks the other way) as fundamentalist Hindu groups plan the complete eradication of Islam and Christianity.  Overtly, there are Christian villages, churches, and pastors routinely attacked throughout the country.  India's many religions have co-existed remarkably harmoniously in the world's largest Democracy, but that is now being challenged and Christians are targets.  

As for the United States, what Christians here are experiencing is a loss of privilege and blind-trust in their intentions.  That is not the same as Christian persecution.  As one who has spent times in truly persecuted communities around the world, it rings very hollow when Americans claim that they are oppressed.  Even in England things are more difficult for churches.  All American religious groups have tremendous freedoms and options, and that is thankfully preserved because of its clear separation of church and state.  It is these other nations where church and state co-mingle and create persecution and kill the dynamism of religion where persecution truly exists.  Other countries should be so lucky as to have America's "persecution" problems.  

Believe it or not, civilizations (even Western Civilization and its secularism) owe a lot to religion.  The persecution of Christians or any other religious group does not help the world.  While that is a subject for another day, what is clear is that many innocents are being hurt, terrorized or killed. Christian persecution is real and it is a danger to the world entire.  It behooves Christians to never themselves be the ones doing the persecuting and stand by those that are persecuted.